This is very hard for me, but I’ve got a confession to make. I’m James McCleary and I’m a beer snob. It never used to be that way, and I don’t know exactly when it happened, but it happened. I can no longer stomach most mass-produced, ordinary beer because the taste is now about as appealing to me as the thought of drinking tepid water on a scorching day. Once you go Craft, you’ll send all others away on a raft. That was my failed attempt at a humorous take on the classic adage, “once you go Black…,” or as my wife would probably say (as she so often does) it was merely me being “such a nerd” as usual. Anyway, craft beer is made in much smaller batches, offers an abundance of taste, and has an array of flavors. Becoming a beer snob wasn’t a very tough decision for me after trying just a few samples of the unique beverage, and now all I have are some faded memories of when I used to drink the “regular” stuff.
I do recall my first experience with ordinary beer when I was around the age of sixteen. That may seem pretty young to be consuming alcohol, but I was brought up in the “good old days” when nineteen was the legal drinking age in Iowa. My childhood friend, I met at church of all places, and I were hanging out one weekend at another guy’s house when we all decided drinking some beer sounded like fun. My friend made one phone call, and the next thing I knew another kid about our same age was delivering an ice cold 12-pack of something to us. The overgrown, full-bearded, and so adult-looking classmate of ours had no problem purchasing the beverage at a nearby convenience store. I can’t remember if I enjoyed the cold brew or not, but I did like the warm sensation it gave me, and I do know we had a good time that evening.
My father sometimes kept beer in the refrigerator when I was growing up, but he never had more than a 6-pack in the fridge at a time. The cans weren’t very difficult to locate among the ketchup, mustard, and grape jelly because the giant black letters B E E R on the shiny white can stood out like an African-American in the Republican Party. Our very religious neighbors across the street thought it was horrible for my father to have beer in the house even though he only drank maybe two cans per month. Unlike my father, my boyhood idol, who lived a few houses up the street from us, always seemed to be quenching his thirst.
I vividly remember my first day of high school baseball practice because afterwards I needed a ride home since I had run away the previous evening. (That’s a whole other story.) Anyway, after practice my elder idol, he was a Senior and I was a Sophomore, gladly offered me a ride. Immediately, after easing into his maroon ’66 Mustang, he retrieved a small cooler from the backseat and then popped open a frosty can of Budweiser. He offered me a cold one as well, being the gracious host that he was, but I refused because my idea of spring-training apparently differed from his. He was a natural athlete whereas I had to work a little harder in order to be competitive.
A couple of short years later I too found myself keeping a cooler in my vehicle, a baby blue ’78 Plymouth Custom Fury, but my cooler was much larger, and it contained the cheapest beer I could find. I thought I was pretty darn cool allowing my younger brother and his friends to watch me as I’d open up the trunk of my sweet ride and then open up a cold brew. Once in awhile I’d give them an additional thrill by using the shotgun method when partaking. This procedure meant poking a hole in the lower portion of the can, placing my mouth around the hole, and then quickly pulling the tab to release a forceful flow of the beverage down my throat. Nowadays, when looking back, I think I was an idiot!
I was always a bargain shopper, when it came to purchasing beer, until I became a beer snob. I was in my early twenties when I got recruited to play slow-pitch softball, and after each game we would take turns bringing enough beer to satisfy everyone’s thirst. Bud, Busch, Coors, and once in a while their lighter versions were religiously awaiting us after each hard fought contest. I can’t help but remember my teammates’ reactions the first time I brought the mandatory refreshments to the ballpark. The shocking looks of disbelief, on each and every one of their faces, were priceless as I opened up the cooler filled to the rim with Black Label beer. I was actually quite impressed with the appearance of the fancy cans even if the cost was only $1.99 a 12-pack. I had rationalized that anything would be better than bringing cans that simply had the word BEER printed on them, but boy was I wrong. My teammates obviously felt differently about the situation as they quickly began ridiculing me, and then they continued moaning and groaning the entire evening while polishing off the “unacceptable” beverage.
I wonder if anyone from that softball team, of many years ago, has discovered the world of craft beer like I have. Presumably, even the “King of Beers” becomes inadequate to the palate of most people once experiencing the refreshing flavor of a coffee Stout, vanilla Porter, or the citrus taste found in a Hefeweizen. There is a fine art to brewing craft beer similar to that of the fine art of wine-making. The processes are indeed different, but in both cases the final product is derived from the extreme care that is taken when selecting the numerous ingredients and then figuring out the exact proportions to use. For instance, the Brewmaster (yes that is his title) at Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe, Arizona, makes a delicious Peach Ale without using any peach flavoring, or even the fuzzy fruit itself, during the brewing process. I have replaced all those ordinary, cheap beers I use to consume with caramel Reds, Browns, and personal favorite, India Pale Ales (better known as IPA’s in the craft beer world). I have also long since retired the shotgun technique. Nowadays, I can rarely be seen drinking any kind of cheap beer…except in the rare case of an emergency. I am a beer snob.